The article referred to proposals for full-blown integration which pre-dated the last-ditch attempt by Churchill (with the aid of Jean Monnet) in June 1940, aimed at forestalling the collapse of France. However, the whole of my story was based on secondary accounts, without any primary sources.
Browsing though the National Archives, though – as one does – I have come across bundles of documents, comprising over 1,000 pages, which provide a comprehensive record of Anglo-French relations between 1939 and 1940. One of the most interesting is this one
- CAB/85/18 - relating to the "Interdepartmental Committee on Post-War Anglo-French Collaboration".
The purpose of bringing some extracts from these documents to light is that they have considerable relevance to the ongoing debate on our membership of the European Union.
On the agenda then, back in early 1940 was the prospect of a Customs Union – the very thing at the core of the European Union – and this was explored by Sir Arnold Overton in a memorandum dated 9 May 1940, studying the implications of an "Act of Association between the United Kingdom and France". His comments are equally relevant to us now, as he observes:
… an Anglo-French Customs Union would be beset with many serious political and administrative difficulties … a pooling of Customs revenue would probably be involved, requiring an agreed division of receipts between the two Governments, or at all events some kind of inter-Governmental financial adjustments which would link the budgetary finances of the countries together. But as finances are the key of general policy, so to speak, we should inevitably be brought very near, at least, to a fusion of the two Governments. It is believed that there us hardly a single instance on record of a Customs Union between two or more States, each of which retained political autonomy. Either one member is so small as to be politically inert or a mere satellite of its larger partner, or else political unification has followed.
Also being considered was a common currency and there another official made an observation with which we are only too familiar, that "a common currency had never been possible historically without a common Government".
Then followed on note from Lionel Curtis who wrote of "composite systems" such as treaty alliances. That they are highly unstable as compared with sovereign states is a fact, he stated:
A state exists wherever the people living in a definite area are organised under one authority which claims a right to demand unlimited sacrifices from each individual in the interests of all the others in that area, and when also that claim is sufficiently recognised and obeyed by enough individuals to enable it to be enforced against all in the area.
Lincoln called this factor "dedication" and it is this readiness of the more public-spirited citizens to obey a claim to unlimited self-sacrifice, and also to make less public-spirited citizens also obey it, that is the root of sovereignty, Curtis added. It enables one authority in the state to override all other authorities in the last resort. It enables that authority to make decisions, and make them in time. He went on:
The doctrine that the state can be based on compact (a treaty) in any shape of form is the master fallacy of political thought. It is of all illusions that which has brought most suffering to civilised man. Compact is based on a balance of interests. It is bilateral or multilateral. The interests on which it is based shift and change like a bed of sand under moving water. What Lincoln called "dedication" is unilateral, and, because the claim to unlimited loyalty of each to all is not subject to change by changing events, it creates a stable system. It is a bed-rock compared with the shifting sands of balanced self-interests. Attempts to create stable political systems by compacts between sovereign states must from their nature fail.
Such words, communicated to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord Halifax) on 21 May 1940, set out the reasons why, more than 70 years later, the European Union must fail. It inevitably involves political unification but it can never attract the "dedication" of the people. It can never demand and nor will it ever get the unlimited sacrifice of its "citizens.
Thus, the idea that the EU can replace the sovereign state is indeed a "master fallacy of political thought" and those who believe it has a stable future are deluded. The European Union must fail – because of its very nature. The sovereign state is the only political entity which can provide stability.